JURORS have dramatically cleared a man accused of washing and hiding an axe used in a gruesome murder.
Neal Stacey, 49, breathed a sigh of relief as the jury foreman at Winchester Crown Court returned the verdict.
He had been accused of cleaning and concealing the 15in long weapon in a bath.
But 20 minutes after being told they would not be hearing any further evidence about Brendon Willis, who previously admitted killing 27-year-old homeless Christopher Butler, the jury cleared Stacey of perverting the course of justice.
Earlier in the morning jurors had asked to see the axe and the rucksack, which the prosecution claimed was used to carry the axe.
At the trial, CCTV played in court showed how Willis, 33, visited Stacey and his friend Yasmin McCue begging outside the Kwiki-Mart in Albert Road, Southsea.
I’ve done him, I’ve put him out of his misery, I’ve hit him with an axe four timesBrendon Willis’ confession
Just hours after the murder Willis was seen talking to people in the street then buying drinks in the shop.
The court heard that Willis had said he had been naked at the time of the killing.
It was the prosecution’s case that Willis had gone back to Stacey’s flat at 67 Waverley Road, Southsea, and that Stacey then washed the axe and hid it in a bath in his garden.
But giving evidence Stacey, who always denied the charge, claimed it was Miss McCue who washed and then hid the axe.
He also told how Miss McCue – who was the prosecution’s key witness – had previously asked him to help her make a false allegation against her stepfather.
During the trial, jurors were told that Willis made a ‘chilling confession’ to Neil McAvery after the killing.
Willis, who had been smoking the then-legal high Spice with Mr Butler, told Mr McAvery: ‘I’ve done Chris.
‘I’ve done him, I’ve put him out of his misery, I’ve hit him with an axe four times.’
Mr Butler was found in a room Willis had been squatting in at 75 Waverley Road, Southsea, on January 1.
Mr McAvery had been at the party with Willis and Mr Butler, but left at 10.30pm before returning at about 11.15pm to find the party finished and Willis confessed.
In evidence, Mr McAvery said: ‘He hit him four times with the sharp end, heard him gurgle, so he spun him round and hit him four times with the blunt end, that’s what he said to me.’
Willis made Mr McAvery promise he would not go in the room for three hours, Mr McAvery said. However, he did go in the room and made the grisly discovery.
Mr McAvery added: ‘Straight away I knew the boy was dead, from the amount of blood.’
Willis, formerly of Waverley Road, told Mr McAvery of the murder and Stacey, also formerly of Waverley Road, and Miss McCue, but none believed him.
Drug use surrounded death of homeless man, court told
DURING the trial a bleak picture emerged of life in the street where Christopher Butler was murdered.
Witnesses told how drug use was rife – with the killer Brendon Willis, cleared Neal Stacey, witness Yasmin McCue and Gareth Molloy, who called 999, all having taken heroin in the hours surrounding the killing.
Doors were left unlocked at three buildings packed full of smaller rooms, let out to individuals, jurors were told.
Homeless Mr Butler’s killer Willis was squatting in a room at 75 Waverley Road which his brother had previously rented.
Mr Molloy, who lived in the block where Mr Butler’s body was found, told jurors he had been out looking for heroin before the death.
He told how he was joined by two women who were also looking to buy the class A drug, and he was eventually able to do so.
A taxi arrived at the address with a man selling him the drug, he said in court.
He told jurors: ‘If you hang around Waverley Road long enough someone will come along wanting to sell you gear or wanting to score themselves.’
Stacey, 49, who was cleared of perverting the course of justice yesterday, told jurors how he had a long addiction to heroin sparked when his daughter died in 1997.
But he said he had been off the drug until his partner died from heroin after he came to Portsmouth in 2014.
Talking about when he was with Willis at the Kwiki-Mart in the early hours of January 1 he said people, including Willis, were talking about why police were in Waverley Road.
Stacey said: ‘Someone said it was a raid. He said “who do you reckon is being busted?” That was his general conversation.
‘Police come and kick you door down if they think you’re doing something dodgy.
‘It’s the worst place in Portsmouth, apparently, and I had to go there clean, pretty dumb weren’t it.’